By Tony Best
Special to the NNPA from the New York Carib News
A Caribbean initiative designed to seek reparations from European nations that dominated the trans-Atlantic slave trade has received a major boost from the region’s leaders.
Caricom prime ministers and presidents have endorsed a comprehensive plan that includes the cancellation of billions of dollars of debt and an apology from such countries as Britain, France and the Netherlands which enriched themselves from the Caribbean’s human resources over a 250-plus year period ending in the 19th century.
The heads of government have agreed to move forward with their case against the three countries in particular which were prime movers and shakers of slavery, according to the British law firm, Leigh Day, which has been retained by the Caribbean to press the matter in court, if early negotiations fail.
The decision was made in St. Vincent & the Grenadines where the Caricom leaders have just concluded a two-day summit under the chairmanship of Dr. Ralph Gonsalves.
“I would say we made good progress on that (reparations) issue, and before the end of June, some approach is going to be made to the European countries in relation to this matter of reparations,” Gonsalves, St. Vincent’s Prime Minister said.
“We believe we have the law and the facts on our side in relation to addressing the legacy of native genocide and African slavery and we will make our case,” he added. “It is a serious proposal, with serious issues, within the same context of not fighting anybody.
“These things never come easy but these are 14 sovereign countries representing 16 million people with a huge Diaspora in the United States, in Canada, in Europe,” said Dr. Gonslaves, an attorney who once taught at the University of the West Indies in Barbados. “I think we have some influence. I am satisfied and we are satisfied that we have the law on our side, and we have the facts on our side.”
The 10-point plan, explained Martyn Day, a British attorney who is spearheading the region’s case would consist of a “fair set of demands on the governments whose countries grew rich at the expense of those regions whose human wealth was stolen from them.”
As Day pointed out, the group of English, Creole and Dutch-speaking islands and coastal states that belong to Caricom also wants European help in strengthening their educational and cultural institutions and their health facilities.
Caricom states are expected to push for litigation if the European countries decline to negotiate.
The region’s leaders made their decision after Professor Sir Hillary Beckles, Chairman of the Region’s Reparations Commission and Principal of the Cave Hill campus of the University of the West Indies had made a presentation to them on what is being called a “reparatory justice framework.” It comprises such things as an apology, the question of organizing with African nations and persons who support the case for reparations as well as matters relating to health, education and literacy as well as building cultural institutions and developing programs that address the needs of indigenous people.
Sir Hillary is one of the Caribbean’s foremost historians and has written extensively on slavery and reparations. His latest book, “Britain’s Black Debt, Reparations for Caribbean Slavery and Native Genocide,” was published a year ago.
Caricom and European countries are to meet soon in London and their talks would enable “our clients to quickly gauge whether or not their concerns are being taken seriously,” said Dr. Gonsalves.
The plan is said to include a demand for the creation of a “reparations program that would seek European diplomatic assistance from European governments, to potentially resettle members of the Rastafarian movement in Africa.